It was the
and I couldn't bring a
By Michael Hashim & Steve Holtje
Phil Schaap used to book a two-tenor series at the West End and one night I went because it featured Percy France, who I had heard on a Jimmy Smith LP. The other “name” tenor didn’t show up, and the first set consisted of mostly ballads as I recall. Sleepier than the two-tenor fireworks I’d expected. Well, Phil Schaap was on the phone during the first set finding a replacement, and for the second set a young white guy I’d never heard of was introduced.
I was sitting home that night, unshaved, and the phone rang. Phil wanted me to come to the West End NOW! I lived only 6 blocks from the club at that time. Back then I played alto and soprano, did not own a tenor or even a mouthpiece. My roommate, the great Tad Shull, loaned me an old Conn Chu Berry Model tenor, mouthpiece and reed and I ran up Broadway to the gig. Jerry Potter played drums and Sammy Price was the leader: no bass player! He was pretty taciturn and didn't speak to the band at all. He would go into an intro, we'd pick-up the key, tempo, and title and BOOM we were into it!
The difference between the sets was night and day; France was clearly out to hand the new guy his head on a platter. After Percy had played his first set in less than exciting fashion, it was clear that he raised his game when faced with competition. It was the closest I’ve come to witnessing a cutting competition in person, and I’ll never forget it.
I remember Percy's demeanor as quiet and his playing as spectacularly soulful and swinging, as it always was. Not being at all practiced on tenor, I am sure I sounded horrible. Percy knew me as an alto player. He could hear what my problems were and, if anything, seemed sympathetic. But it was the Two-Tenor Boogie and I couldn't bring a knife to a gunfight!
Steve Holtje is a pianist and composer and manager of the ESP-Disk record label.
Michael Hashim is a saxophonist who has led the Widespread Depression Jazz Orchestra and his own groups and recorded with Mike LeDonne, Claudio Roditi, Richard Wyands and many others.
George Kelly, Percy France & Leonard Gaskin - Members of Sammy Price's Two-Tenor Boogie, April 1987, Switzerland.
Photo: Leonard Gaskin Papers, Archives Center,
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution